The Other Lies of George Bush
This article was adapted from the new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers).
George W. Bush is a liar. He has lied large and small, directly and by omission. His Iraq lies have loomed largest. In the run-up to the invasion, Bush based his case for war on a variety of unfounded claims that extended far beyond his controversial uranium-from-Niger assertion. He maintained that Saddam Hussein possessed "a massive stockpile" of unconventional weapons and was directly "dealing" with Al Qaeda--two suppositions unsupported then (or now) by the available evidence. He said the International Atomic Energy Agency had produced a report in 1998 noting that Iraq was six months from developing a nuclear weapon; no such report existed (and the IAEA had actually reported then that there was no indication Iraq had the ability to produce weapons-grade material). Bush asserted that Iraq was "harboring a terrorist network, headed by a senior Al Qaeda terrorist planner"; US intelligence officials told reporters this terrorist was operating ouside of Al Qaeda control. And two days before launching the war, Bush said, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." Yet former deputy CIA director Richard Kerr, who is conducting a review of the prewar intelligence, has said that intelligence was full of qualifiers and caveats, and based on circumstantial and inferential evidence. That is, it was not no-doubt stuff. And after the major fighting was done, Bush declared, "We found the weapons of mass destruction." But he could only point to two tractor-trailers that the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency had concluded were mobile bioweapons labs. Other experts--including the DIA's own engineering experts--disagreed with this finding.
But Bush's truth-defying crusade for war did not mark a shift for him. Throughout his campaign for the presidency and his years in the White House, Bush has mugged the truth in many other areas to advance his agenda. Lying has been one of the essential tools of his presidency. To call the forty-third President of the United States a prevaricator is not an exercise of opinion, not an inflammatory talk-radio device. Rather, it is backed up by an all-too-extensive record of self-serving falsifications. While politicians are often derided as liars, this charge should be particularly stinging for Bush. During the campaign of 2000, he pitched himself as a candidate who could "restore" honor and integrity to an Oval Office stained by the misdeeds and falsehoods of his predecessor. To brand Bush a liar is to negate what he and his supporters declared was his most basic and most important qualification for the job.
His claims about the war in Iraq have led more of his foes and more pundits to accuse him of lying to the public. The list of his misrepresentations, though, is far longer than the lengthy list of dubious statements Bush employed--and keeps on employing--to justify his invasion and occupation of Iraq. Here then is a partial--a quite partial--account of the other lies of George W. Bush.
Bush's crusade for tax cuts is the domestic policy matter that has spawned the most misrepresentations from his camp. On the 2000 campaign trail, he sold his success as a "tax-cutting person" by hailing cuts he passed in Texas while governor. But Bush did not tell the full story of his 1997 tax plan. His proposal called for cutting property taxes. But what he didn't mention is that it also included an attempt to boost the sales tax and to implement a new business tax. Nor did he note that his full package had not been accepted by the state legislature. Instead, the lawmakers passed a $1 billion reduction in property taxes. And these tax cuts turned out to be a sham. After they kicked in, school districts across the state boosted local tax rates to compensate for the loss of revenue. A 1999 Dallas Morning News analysis found that "many [taxpayers] are still paying as much as they did in 1997, or more." Republican Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry called the cuts "rather illusory."
One of Bush's biggest tax-cut whoppers came when he stated, during the presidential campaign, "The vast majority of my [proposed] tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum." That estimate was wildly at odds with analyses of where the money would really go. A report by Citizens for Tax Justice, a liberal outfit that specializes in distribution analysis, figured that 42.6 percent of Bush's $1.6 trillion tax package would end up in the pockets of the top 1 percent of earners. The lowest 60 percent would net 12.6 percent. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, ABC News and NBC News all reported that Bush's package produced the results CTJ calculated.
To deal with the criticism that his plan was a boon for millionaires, Bush devised an imaginary friend--a mythical single waitress who was supporting two children on an income of $22,000, and he talked about her often. He said he wanted to remove the tax-code barriers that kept this waitress from reaching the middle class, and he insisted that if his tax cuts were passed, "she will pay no income taxes at all." But when Time asked the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche to analyze precisely how Bush's waitress-mom would be affected by his tax package, the firm reported that she would not see any benefit because she already had no income-tax liability.
As he sold his tax cuts from the White House, Bush maintained in 2001 that with his plan, "the greatest percentage of tax relief goes to the people at the bottom end of the ladder." This was trickery--technically true only because low-income earners pay so little income tax to begin with. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put it, "a two-parent family of four with income of $26,000 would indeed have its income taxes eliminated under the Bush plan, which is being portrayed as a 100 percent reduction in taxes." But here was the punch line: The family owed only $20 in income taxes under the existing law. Its overall tax bill (including payroll and excise taxes), though, was $2,500. So that twenty bucks represented less than 1 percent of its tax burden. Bush's "greatest percentage" line was meaningless in the real world, where people paid their bills with money, not percentages.
Bush also claimed his tax plan--by eliminating the estate tax, at a cost of $300 billion--would "keep family farms in the family." But, as the New York Times reported, farm-industry experts could not point to a single case of a family losing a farm because of estate taxes. Asked about this, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, "If you abolish the death tax, people won't have to hire all those planners to help them keep the land that's rightfully theirs." Caught in a $300 billion lie, the White House was now saying the reason to abolish the tax--a move that would be a blessing to the richest 2 percent of Americans--was to spare farmers the pain in the ass of estate planning. Bush's lies did not hinder him. They helped him win the first tax-cut fight--and, then, the tax-cut battle of 2003. When his second set of supersized tax cuts was assailed for being tilted toward the rich, he claimed, "Ninety-two million Americans will keep an average of $1,083 more of their own money." The Tax Policy Center of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute found that, contrary to Bush's assertion, nearly 80 percent of tax filers would receive less than $1,083, and almost half would pocket less than $100. The truly average taxpayers--those in the middle of the income range--would receive $265. Bush was using the word "average" in a flimflam fashion. To concoct the misleading $1,083 figure, the Administration took the large dollar amounts high-income taxpayers would receive and added that to the modest, small or nonexistent reductions other taxpayers would get--and then used this total to calculate an average gain. His claim was akin to saying that if a street had nine households led by unemployed individuals but one with an earner making a million dollars, the average income of the families on the block would be $100,000. The radical Wall Street Journal reported, "Overall, the gains from the taxes are weighted toward upper-income taxpayers."